Right to roam protesters 'mass trespass' on Duke of Somerset's estate

‘Less room for pheasants, more room for peasants!’: Up to 200 protesters trespass on Duke of Somerset’s private estate in Devon to demand more public access to land

  • The ‘mass trespass’ kicks off a month of action for an extended right to roam
  • Campaigners argue more privately owned land should be opened to ramblers
  • Berry Pomeroy Castle woodlands is used by the Duke for pheasant shooting 
  • Despite being closed to the public, the Totnes estate receives taxpayer subsidies
  • In 2020, official data shows the Duke of Somerset got £30,000 for ‘conservation’
  • One trespasser saw a pile of rubbish and pheasant carcasses while on the estate
  • It comes after the government shelved a review into extending the right to roam 

A ‘mass trespass’ through a restricted estate used for pheasant shooting in South Devon today has kicked off a nationwide series of protests for a greater right to roam. 

Right to Roam, a protest group that wants to see more private land made accessible to walkers, has picnicked and paraded through the Duke of Somerset’s South Hams estate today in what marks the beginning of a month-long nationwide campaign.

One member of the mass trespass reported on Twitter that he had found ‘a mass grave of scores of discarded pheasants, wire mesh fencing, and fly-tipped rubbish’ on the Duke’s private estate.

Guy Shrubsole, the Totnes-based campaigner who posted the picture of piled rubbish in the woods, complained that large amounts of private woodlands exclude ramblers and are used ‘instead for releasing and shooting pheasants, a non-native species of game bird’. 

Mr Shrubsole said: ‘Isn’t it time big landowners made a little less room for pheasants, and a bit more room for us peasants?’ 

Today around 200 ‘Right to Roam’ protesters paraded through Berry Pomeroy Castle woodlands, owned by the the Duke of Somerset John Seymour, as they agitated for greater land access for ramblers

Berry Pomeroy Castle woodlands is part of the Duke of Somerset John Seymour’s sprawling private estate, which includes around 2,800 acres in Devon and 3,400 in Wiltshire

Referring to the pile of detritus and fly-tipped rubbish allegedly uncovered during the mass trespass, Mr Shrubsole wrote on Twitter: ‘We’re here to draw back the veil of secrecy that hides how landowners – not ramblers – trash nature.’ 

The walk saw as many as 200 protesters meet at 1pm before parading through and picnicking in Berry Pomeroy Castle woodlands, owned by the Duke of Somerset John Seymour, whose name is on the title deeds of around 2,800 acres of land in Devon and 3,400 in Wiltshire, according to Totnes Times.

The Duke received close to £30,000 of taxpayer subsidies in 2020 alone for ‘forest, environmental and climate services and forest conservation’ on his Totnes estate, according to an analysis of public data conducted by The Big Issue.

It comes after the government shelved a review into the right to roam last month, with the Treasury saying the English countryside is a ‘place of business’, which already provides ramblers with ‘hundreds of thousands of miles of public footpaths’. 

The move to double down on right to roam delineations laid out in existing legislation came in spite of the shelved report, conducted by Lord Agnew, having promised to create ‘a quantum shift in how our society supports people to access and engage with the outdoors’.

‘Nature should be accessible for all’, Right to Roam’s website reads. 

‘Our rights of access should be extended to woodlands, all downland…and the Green Belt land that could give so many more people in towns and cities easy access to nature.’

Totnes-based campaigner Guy Shrubsole told The Big Issue: ‘Regular access to nature is vital to people’s physical and mental health, yet so much of England’s countryside is shut off behind fences and intimidating signs.

The Totnes branch of the nationwide Right to Roam campaign group began their ‘mass trespass’ at 1pm, stopping for a picnic along the way, before wrapping things up at around 4.30pm 

The Duke of Somerset John Seymour, who uses his Berry Pomeroy Castle woodlands for pheasant shooting, received £30,000 of taxpayers’ money for ‘conservation’ work carried out on his Totnes estate in 2020 

‘Many woodlands – like those owned by the Duke – are off-limits to the public because they’re brimming with pheasants put there for a few days’ shooting, with hugely detrimental impacts on the environment.’

The campaign group argues that the freedom to roam, codified into law in 2000 by the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW Act), does not go far enough – with only eight percent of English land currently accessible to the public for walking.

While existing laws allow a right to roam over certain landscapes (mountain, moor, commons and some downland, heath, and coastlines), the campaign group believes this access should be extended still further – bringing England into line with countries like Scotland and Norway, where ramblers have far fewer limitations. 

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